Dancing In A Small Space
Dancing In A Small Space. You’re at a Milonga, early, and you have lots and lots of space to dance. There are a few couples dancing, and it feels so spacious to dance ‘freely’. As the night progresses, more and more people show up to the Milonga, and before you know it, there are more and more people on the floor, and about an hour or so later, there is hardly any room to move on the floor. And right about this point, the DJ is hitting their 'stride'. This is the moment that you get annoyed, pissed really, that you can’t do what you want to do. You begin to cut your ideas short, you inadvertently bump into people, your partner has stepped on someone or so you think, elbows are seemingly everywhere, your choices musically become stilted, and on top of all of that, you feel claustrophobic. As a result, you change lanes out of the outer track of dance, hoping that that will be a little better. Everyone always wants to be in the outer track of dancing. A little while later, the same thing happens, you’re crowded again. You change lanes to the inner mob scene where it’s just chaos and no lane or line of dance, it’s just bodies moving in their own space and god help you if you survive. You step off the floor, and looking at the outer track of dancing and wonder, “How do they dance like that? All bunched up!” or “How is that pleasurable?”. What’s the ‘that’ ? Dancing In A Small Space!
What is a ‘Dancing In A Small Space’ ? There are two parts to the answer to this question:
Before we answer that question, there is a misperception that 'Dancing In A Small Space' is strictly "Milonguero" Style of dancing. This is not the case at all. Whether you believe it or not, this is not necessarily a 'style' of dance. It's a marketing term to address a series of ideas that fit under the umbrella of "Salon" dancing. Salon Dancing is vast umbrella that includes most of the styles of Argentine Tango that we're most familiar with. Dancing In A Small Space is a practical concept that borrows heavily from all of those forms, not just one style. Whatever embrace you use or are comfortable with the ideas contained in this video series can be exceptionally helpful to you.
First, in it’s simplest form, it’s all about the vocabulary and engaging Five pieces of Tango vocabulary. The Five Pieces? 1.) 5 of the 6 Ways of Walking. 2.) Milonguero Ochos (sometimes referred to as ‘Lazy’ Ochos). 3.) Milonguero Turns (not the Follower’s Molinete). 4.) Back and Forward Crosses (not the Argentine Cross, there’s no space!). And 5.) Linear (and Circular) Ocho Cortados. This is all done in Close Embrace. Note that there are no Sacadas, Colgadas, Volcadas, Ganchos, Boloeos, or Death Drops and/or Drags. None. Not in typical sense. However it should be noted that the Social Vocabulary ideas can be interjected here: The Social Turns, The Single-Axis Turn, The Close Embrace Sacadas, etc. However, there are a whole bunch more pieces of Tango vocabulary that almost never get talked about, or thought of here, that can also be applied, such as Calesitas, Paradas (Step Over), Pasadas (Drags & Sweeps), ’Patter’ (sometimes referred to as ‘Pitter-Patter’), The Incrementals (see Golden Nugget Extensions), just to name a few.
Secondly, there’s the actual ‘Dancing’ part of the statement which is more about movement more than anything else. Said movement is done in a very confined space, no bigger than one-meter square, if that. The people that practice this way of dancing, are consciously aware of not taking any more space than is absolutely needed. This is dancing in very crowded milonga environment really, where the distance between couples, on all sides, is no more than about the length of one hand (about 17 centimeters, if that). So from the perspective of the Small Space Dancer, there is seemingly (operative word) precious little space to ‘do’ anything due to the conditions of the ronda, so as a result of this seeming confinement, the dancing part is really about the minimal. Everything is done either around the lead, or the space that the couple currently occupies and does not extend beyond that space. Quite factually, one would take up no more space than the space that one’s feet occupy at that moment in time, and no more than that, but without moving from that spot!
Difficulty Rating: (4 / 5)
The Biggest Problem! Is perception. How's that ? A frequent problem that crops up for a lot of people is that they think or believe that the only way to make this stuff work is by pulling their partner into them with their arms, and to go one step further by holding their partner very still, trying to steady their partner, and compressing even more. There's lots of tension, pressure, and compression.
This is not true. You do not need to hold on tight to your partner in order to make this stuff work. Truth be told the solution to making Dancing In A Small Space function is actually all about body placement and in specific foot placement and weight distribution. Place these things in the right position and you’re good to go. Put them in less than optimal positions and you’re quite literally screwed and end up squeezing the living daylights out of your partners!
Let’s Talk About Fear. The other side of the perception problem is the reality that Dancing In A Small Space is going to freak you out! You’re going to be afraid of X, whatever X may be. Mostly because it’s unfamiliar to you. Most leads lose their collective minds when they have to navigate at a crowded Milonga. They’d rather sit than have to step all over someone’s feet or stumbling and bumbling here and there and apologizing everywhere. So rather than dance to their favorite Di Sarli or De Caro, they’ll sit out and wait for the floor to clear a bit. Followers have a slightly different bend on fear, it’s the fear of stepping on someone’s feet, and not necessarily their partners. It’s OTHER people’s feet. Why ? Because they know they’re in 3 in heels and those things are like lethal weapons on their own. One good ‘stomp’ and that’s someone’s night right there at a hospital emergency room!
Confusion & Consternation. In one respect YouTube has been the biggest boon to Argentine Tango in the last 50 years since Petroleo came along. And that's because of the proliferation of everyone's sharing of their ideas of the form, there are way too many notable examples of Tango on youtube to name here. However, the less than desirable is that when you see dancing on YouTube, it is very infrequently actual social dancing. It's a performance. So the belief or idea in your head when you watch X, Y, and Z performance is that what you're seeing should be doable on a social dance floor. The reality is that most of that stuff is a.) under certain conditions. and b.) if and only if you drop the egregiousness of the movements themselves. Further still is that fact that what you're seeing IS A PERFORMANCE, not actual social dancing. Whether you realize it or not, you're being fooled into seeing that things work on a social dance floor. Yes they work when there's lots of space, however...when there's loads of people on the floor and you have no more than a few centimeters between yourself and the next couple ? Not so much with that! Which is to say that, more than likely the performance-y side of what you're seeing does not work on a crowded dance floor because there's no space for that stuff. Not now, not ever.
How Do You Dance In A Small Space ? Carefully. Which is easier written/said, than actually done.
To be clear this is not an easy practice to learn. There are precious few teachers or dancers that talk about this stuff. Occasionally you’ll find a random class on the subject, at a workshop weekend, or a tango festival but for the most part the people that dance the principles of Dancing In A Small Space, divided up into it’s component elemental vocabulary. It is only during those vocabulary sessions that the thought of how to make things smaller, tighter, much more confined is left up to the instructor to ‘mention’, and that’s assuming that they mention this stuff at all. Usually, they don’t. And so that we’re clear here, this statement or descriptive is not to disparage anyone’s teaching or a specific teacher in any way, shape, or form. Some teachers have a full load and a lot on their minds and this stuff is way down on their list of things to remind you about. Hence this video series. Further down the rabbit hole of ‘Carefully’, while there are very few teachers that talk about this stuff, there are even fewer resources that can be used to practice this stuff. You would think that practicing this stuff in the line of dance would be a good place. And it is to a degree, however, a Milonga is not practice, that’s what a ‘Practica’ is for. A Milonga can be a good experience, but it’s no substitute for actual practicing of the guiding principles of Dancing In A Small Space.
The How Part:
1.) Smaller. You would think that just making things smaller would help. It does to a degree. Yes, learning to confine and control one’s body in the execution of X, Y, and/or Z is absolutely crucial. Truthfully the thing that makes this stuff work, is not necessarily about the vocabulary used, but rather about the length of the steps taken, and just how judicious one can be with not only one’s feet, but rather one’s legs!
2.) Economy. Honestly this is about an economy of motion. Typically on a social dance floor you have the freedom to move and do whatever you want, and take up oodles of space to do it. However, when under the conditions of Dancing In A Small Space, you must look for other ways to do exactly the same thing, but without taking up space to do it. Enter - The Economy of Motion. Why take 5 steps when 1 will do ? Why move forward when there’s no reason to do so, especially when there’s no space to move forward ? Under these conditions one must learn to utilize the space that one has, and work in the minimal. Exceptionally minimal.
3.) Solo Practice. The reality of Dancing In A Small Space is that it doesn’t just ‘happen’. Not by a long shot. This stuff takes time and patience to get, and so that we’re clear about this one, not at a Milonga! Practice in this case is actually spent in private practice working by one’s self, on one’s execution of one’s technique. This is really about conditioning one’s body to respond in a very specific way, on command. And like it or not there’s only one way to do that: Solo Practice.
4.) Private Practice with Tools. You’re going to ask yourself, once you feel like you’ve done the Solo practice execution thing to death, what and how do you actually practice with another person in the embrace ? There are a few exercises that one can train one’s self to do be able to respond to Dancing In A Small Space. There are several ideas laid out in the video above, so you’ll have to see the video to get an idea of what’s there in terms of ideas. But one simple idea is working on making things economical and small, without sacrificing the quality of motion, or form, or speed of what you would normally do. However, this is about conditioning so there are limits that must be place on the dancer so that they learn to mitigate these things, without sacrificing anything. That’s the trick right there.
About The Video. This video comes in at two parts: Section 1 on the Vocabulary of Small Space Dancing is 22m:46s in length in 11 Sub-Sections. Section 2 is on the How Part of Small Space Dancing and is 13m:49s in 2 Sections. Lead and Follower is combined and commingled, in both videos. This is NOT a technique video. For the technique on each of these topics, please see their respective areas linked in the text below.
Section 1 - The Vocabulary
Sub-Section 1 - Introduction - 00:02:14
Sub-Section 2 - The Walking Turn - 6 Ways of Walking - 00:02:00
Sub-Section 3 - The Milonguero Turn - 00:01:40
Sub-Section 4 - The Linear Ocho Cortado - 00:02:38
Sub-Section 5 - Ideas In Context (Example) - 00:00:38
Sub-Section 6 - Calesita - 00:00:30
Sub-Section 7 - Circular Patter (with Example) - 00:02:25 [seen above]
Sub-Section 8 - Linear Patter (with Example) - 00:02:29
Sub-Section 9 - Ideas In Context Part 2 - 00:00:58
Sub-Section 10 - Back Crosses - 00:00:31
Sub-Section 11 - A Few Exercises - 00:05:44
Section 2 - The How Part
Sub-Section 1 - The Example Idea - 00:05:41
Sub-Section 2 - Resetting The Couple - 00:07:56
One More Thing. Leading or Following Dancing In A Small Space, there are certain things that both roles must adhere in order for the 'dancing' part to actually work on a social dance floor. Both roles must have mastered their balance and stability issues, both roles must be on the way to mastering the technique side of the vocabulary displayed in the video, and both roles absolutely must not hang, must not pull, must not push. There's no time or space for that stuff. This is a game of precision, not being sloppy. Being sloppy with one's execution of technique creates unintended issues that actually create more problems.
This topic is difficult to represent for a variety of reasons mostly because it covers so many areas and so many disciplines that teaching it is one thing, dancing it another matter altogether. While this video series shows you some very nice ideas, it honestly doesn’t replace actual social dancing, as well as understanding the activityof The Neurology of Leading (and Following).
Learning this stuff in a studio or at home is ok, but you need real-world experience. That real-world practice must be concurrently used with all of the above. Without it, there’s quite literally no point in doing any of this stuff. You will falter in your goal to be able to dance in a ‘musical’ way. The reason is that while dancing in a studio space with just one partner, or practicing with just one partner, in an antiseptic environment without other couples in the line of dance, while being good ‘practice’, does not prepare you for actual social dancing. The line of dance, at an actual milonga or practica, is the only place where you can get that experience.
So while sitting here and tapping out a beat, and/or watching a video on what you need to do, to give you ideas of what has to happen is all fine and good…this point can’t be stressed enough, you actually have to go out social dancing as often as is humanly possible. Read that as EVERY WAKING MOMENT! No excuses. None. Family, job, relationships, bills, money, etc…all of that stuff must take a back seat, temporarily, until you start this process. Make it part of your weekly regime, set yourself an easily attainable goal: 2 to 3 Milongas a week where you can play with the stuff below, or 2 Practicas and a Milonga every week, and once a month head off to a larger tango environment in a larger city, like Boston, Portland (OR), New York, Berlin, Dallas, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Frankfurt, San Francisco, St. Louis, Tampa, Miami, Tokyo, Taipei, Shanghai, Los Angeles, Perth, Brisbane, Houston, Melbourne, London, Paris just to name a few.
Watch It On Youtube ? Why should you pay for this video, or subscribe to this website when stuff like this is available on Youtube ? Because this topic doesn’t exist on YouTube, that’s why. Not to this level of detail with examples of each idea, plus the subsequent and underlying technique videos that you’ll need to make this stuff work. This video is unique because it comprises most of the technique stuff and then divorces it from it. It shows the musical, it shows the vocabulary, and it shows a few exercises. You’d be foolish to look elsewhere for this stuff but go ahead. Look for it on YouTube.
Eventually, one way or another you’re going to pay for this lesson, either here and now, or with them. TANSTAAFL! The difference between that lesson and this ? Is that you get to play this lesson over and over and over again. Further still, there are supporting materials (other videos) that help to explain the language and the underlying technique. In a class or a workshop, you'll spend weeks on this stuff and you'll miss a ton of information that you actually need to work in a small space!
In an hour long class, with the blind leading the blind through rotation of partners (uuuggggh!), you may glean a piece of the information you need and not get the whole thing, and you’ll miss important pieces that you’ll end up having to take a private lesson for to get the finer points. This way, you can watch over and over again, and get all the supplementary materials, and if you want you can still go take the class, only you’ll be better prepared to do so!
The Last Word. Tango Topics is little reminders and snippets of information that your teachers would have told you about but didn’t have time to or didn’t care to remind you for the umpteenth millionth time. Do you need videos like these ? Yes. Why ? Simple…you need as many reminders as possible in as many forms as you can get. In today’s Tango world it does take a village to raise a dancer. And that means having as many voices, reminders, ideas, concepts, perspectives as possible. This video and the rest of the ones that are sitting behind the Tango Topics paywall are that. While what you’re seeing above is only the smallest hint of what’s contained in the actual video. It should be enough for you to make a reasoned and intelligent choice that perhaps there’s something of value in this site and the videos that are here. Considering becoming a Gold, Gold Plus, or Diamond level subscriber today.